Craig Merrill works for Westlake Produce Co., in Winter Haven, during most of the year. But when the Fourth of July rolls around, he trades apples for ammunition as the pyrotechnician behind the Siesta Key Beach fireworks show. With about 1,500 pounds of explosives in tow, Merrill is ready to set the Siesta night sky a blaze for the 10th time. In an interview with the Pelican Press, he shed some light on his explosive background.
How did you get involved with the show on Siesta Key?
I was an assistant to a good friend of mine who has been doing fireworks for close to 20 years. He brought me with him to Siesta Key 11 years ago to help him, and three years later I had enough training to be the lead technician on this show. I have been offered other shows for the Fourth of July in years past, but my family and I love coming to Siesta Key.
We bring our children and usually spend the week during the holiday and make a vacation out of it. The people of Siesta Key, the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce members and staff make it a pleasure to come and spend some time.
How about pyrotechnics in general?
I have been doing pyrotechnics for 11 years with the past eight as a lead technician. I’ve been involved in shows ranging from wedding receptions to the Orange Bowl New Year’s game — from Tampa Bay Rays games to New Year’s Eve in Jacksonville.
What’s your favorite effect?
Crossettes and kamuros are my personal favorites. (Crossettes consist of a star that spreads in four directions and is usually fired in succession creating a criss-cross pattern in the sky. Kamuro, which means “boy’s haircut” in Japanese, resembles a bowl haircut as it bursts in different directions with a thick trail of glittering silver or gold.)
What would you guess the favorite effect of the Siesta Beach audience is?
I would guess that beach audiences like salutes or multi-shot cakes called “Dragon’s Eggs.” (Salutes are an audible experience rather than a visible effect creating a booming pop that echoes along the beach.
Dragon’s Eggs are small shells that explode into stars with a loud crack. The launching tubes are connected with high-speed fuses that create a rapid-fire effect.)
What’s the hardest part of preparing for the Siesta Key fireworks show? Is it any different than the average show?
The beautiful sand of Siesta Key beach is the hardest part of the Fourth of July show. For most shows you have a hard surface to work on and carrying heavy equipment in the sand makes it much more difficult.
How long does it take you to plan the Siesta fireworks show?
There are months of preparation. It starts with “scripting” the show, then the shells are made and packed for the show, and finally we pull permits. Designers and office personnel in Zambelli Fireworks’ Boca Raton office perform most of this preparation.
How did you come up with the TNT plunger idea? How about other ideas for “devices” to start fireworks shows?
The chamber had been struggling to get enough funds to pay for the show. My family and friends love coming to Siesta Key to celebrate the Fourth of July, and the people of Siesta Key and members of the chamber treat us so well I couldn’t bear the idea that they couldn’t afford the show anymore. So, we brainstormed and came up with the idea as an additional way to raise funds. We didn’t really know it would generate as much excitement as it has.
How do you pick the music?
It is based on the script and which celebration.
Do you consider yourself an artist?
(Laughs) I’ve thought of that before. Zambelli Fireworks tells me how to set the show up, although I do get to give it some of my own touch, which makes me somewhat of an artist. I do think I’m more of a performer than an artist.
Do you get nervous before a show?
Oh, yes. What makes me the most nervous is that there are more than 100,000 people watching the show. I’m nervous thinking about whether or not spectators truly love it and will come back the next year.